In a common room tucked away in Founder’s College, located on York’s Keele campus, two veterans of the Middle East peace process witnessed first-hand a different kind of peace.
Palestinian academic Nazmi Al-Jubeh of Birzeit University and Israeli academic Menachem Klein of Bar-Ilan University came to York University last Tuesday evening to speak about their negotiation of the Geneva Accord.
Right: From left, Saeed Rahnema, Shalom-Salam @ York academic advisor; Miram Yosowich, co-president, Shalom-Salam @ York; Nazmi Al-Jubeh, Geneva Accord; Hina Khan, co-president, Shalom-Salam @ York; Menachem Klein, Geneva Accord; and James Moriyama, vice-president, Shalom-Salam @ York.
As members of the steering committee for the Geneva Accord peace initiative, both Al-Jubeh and Klein were invited to York by Shalom-Salam @ York, a peace group founded in 2003 by students of York political science Professor Saeed Rahnema. The group aims to promote peace and understanding about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first Canadian student organization of its kind, it brings together students who put aside political differences in order to work together for the sake of peace.
Both speakers had interrupted a speaking tour of the United States in order to travel to York. Through vicious winds and bone-chilling temperatures, they arrived to give a presentation on the Geneva Accord peace initiative to an audience consisting of York students, faculty, and members of Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities of Toronto. They arrived to find a standing-room-only crowd who wanted to hear their presentation. Although visibly weary, both Al-Jubeh and Klein expressed their delight at the size of the audience and their admiration and regard for the work undertaken by Shalom-Salam @ York. Both praised the student organization. “You have our complete admiration for achieving what Palestinian and Israeli representatives have failed to achieve, and that is peace,” said Al-Jubeh, also speaking on behalf of Klein. Then, taking turns at the podium, the pair delivered a comprehensive presentation about the Geneva Accord or Geneva Initiative, with Al-Jubeh delivering the Palestinian view and Klein presenting the Israeli view.
Al-Jubeh is a historian and archeologist at Birzeit University and co-director of Riwaq, the Centre for Architectural Conservation, in Ramallah, both located on the West Bank. Klein is a senior lecturer in political science at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, a senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, and a board member of B’etselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
The Geneva Accord is an unofficial but highly influential peace initiative that proposes a final status agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. The accord is the result of negotiations led by the former justice minister of Israel, Yossi Beilin, and the former Palestinian information minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo. By offering a model for a permanent status agreement, the Geneva Accord, even as a basis for formal negotiations, could change the face of the region. So stakeholders in the peace process, including Al-Jubeh and Klein, are reaching out to seek broad support for the initiative.
“Four years ago, Palestinian and Israeli representatives failed to conclude peace talks. This happened for a number of reasons,” said Al-Jubeh. “We had built 80 per cent of the road but the final 20 per cent was the most difficult and we lost energy. Since then, both Palestinians and Israelis have been living in a very dramatic situation costing us many lives.
Right: Nazmi Al-Jubeh
“For Palestinians we have unemployment, our society has been uprooted like the olive trees. We are poorer than ever. What is the solution? You will be amazed to hear that both societies agree, with a few pluses and minuses, that the Geneva Accord is the only possible solution,” he said.
“The scope of the solution presented by the Geneva Accord and the fact that it is, to this day, the only document signed by members of both delegations, means that the accord is still the foundation for peace in the Middle East,” explained Al-Jubeh. “I believe that if the unthinkable were to happen and we threw away the Geneva Accord and began negotiations again, in another 20 years we would end up with a document very close to this accord.”
The accord is important, said Al-Jubeh, because it has opened up dialogue and has broken some taboos about dividing Jerusalem, the right of return of Palestinian refugees and how the new country of Palestine will function. The fact that the peace process had gone off the rails was a key concern to Al-Jubeh and Klein. Both speakers agreed that the the process had been skewed by extremist groups. The new Palestinian National Authority president, Mahmood Abbas, has moved talks forward and both Al-Jubeh and Klein said hope has been rekindled for the future of the peace initiative.
Left: Menachem Klein
In his talk, Klein gave a visual representation of the new face of Israel and Palestine. “What is important to note is that this agreement goes back to the 1967 pre-June-war border, prior to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This was one of the first points agreed upon in the Geneva Accord,” said Klein. “You should know that the sides never agreed upon a map until the Geneva Accord. It will mean that Israeli settlers will have to return to the sovereign land of Israel. Parts of Jerusalem and other land will be annexed to the Palestinians and parts will be annexed to Israel.”
Sovereignty of the old city would include important areas for Jews, Christians and Muslims being protected, creating a city of the world, said Klein. He is hoping that free movement of all people through the old city can be achieved although he admitted it would be hard to implement.
Klein highlighted plans for the right of return of Palestinian refugees, explaining that it would not be an absolute right, meaning they wouldn’t return to the same house on the same plot of land they owned before the conflict. Instead, it would be a right to choose where they could live. “This is not an absolute right, but means that any Palestinian refugee could return to live in a Palestinian state,” he said. “Both sides must be willing to give some things up to receive peace.”
Palestinians would recover most of the territory captured during the 1967 war by Israel. Israel would annex several densely populated areas near the Green Line. Other Jewish communities, such as the one in Hebron, and settlements would be removed and their residents transferred. In return for areas annexed by Israel from the West Bank, the Palestinians would receive territory adjacent to the Gaza Strip.
Klein and Al-Jubeh agreed that the current situation could not continue. “We have a fragile cease fire at the moment,” said Klein. I am hoping that it will last and that we can get on with negotiations. There is still much to be done and the final status agreement will probably add another 2,000 pages onto the text of the current accord.”
“What is important is how we can solve such issues through practical debate,” said Klein. “It may not be perfect, but at this point, the Geneva Accord is the only possible way to peace. Everyone has their own historical narrative about what has happened and these narratives are quite emotional. We need to put those narratives aside, as you have done here, and work toward what is practical and what is achievable.”
Following the presentation, Shalom-Salam @ York presented a buffet of Middle Eastern food. Volunteers from Shalom-Salam @ York served the food to guests and encouraged “sampling” of the many different types of dishes. “The volunteers of Shalom-Salam @ York played a crucial role in getting this amazing event off the ground,” said Miriam Yosowich, co-president of Shalom-Salam @ York.
“We honestly could not have done most of the things needed to make this event a success without our volunteers,” said Hina Khan, co-president of Shalom-Salam @ York. She thanked members of the student group and gave special thanks to the volunteer organization Canadian Friends of Peace Now, who helped with airfare and accommodation costs for Al-Jubeh and Klein.